Foggy with a chance of opera at Grange Park

The best thing about doing opera at Grange Park, or anywhere to be honest, is the backstage areas. They are so different to what we normally see I find it fascinating.

A severed head looks on

There are banks of computer servers complete with the severed head of John the Baptist (we think) that are used for controlling the lighting effects and the other myriad of things that have to happen seamlessly and that we will never know about.

There are strange pieces of machinery for lifting the stage up and down, spare chandeliers, and of course what backstage area would be complete without some guns lying around to keep the orchestra in the pit?

The thing that makes the backstage of Grange Park even more interesting than a normal opera house is the cheerful decrepitude of it – the walkway into the pit and the green room are thick with original features!

Grange Park Guns

Original features backstage









The only downside is actually being in the pit because I can’t see anything that’s going on, which can make for a frustrating time. To counter this, I’ve found it worth reading the libretto so at least I can tell more or less where we are in the story. As Peter Grimes is sung in English this isn’t as important, but for The Queen of Spades it makes it much more enjoyable.

As things start to go from bad to worse for Peter Grimes, the fog rolls in and a fair amount of it seems to land in the pit. Some nights it’s just a bit cloudy down there but on others it’s like a 1950’s London fog.

Fog rolls in at Grange Park

Fog rolls into the Grange Park pit

Another thing that is different is the amount of monitor screens that are around. There is a fair amount of off-stage playing and singing in Peter Grimes and there is a camera that beams the conductor to screens at either side of the stage, the back of the auditorium and also behind the scenes so the assistant conductor can keep everyone in time. Her job is made fairly difficult because there is a small lag on the screens meaning that she has to be about half a second ahead of what she’s seeing all the time and as neither she nor the players or singers can hear what we are doing in the pit, the coordination of it all has to be just right.

Finally, the best thing about working in an opera pit is that because we’re invisible to the audience, I don’t have to iron my shirt every night!

Jamie Pullman
BSO Viola


That rarest of things…

At the beginning of every new season there are some things you always see. The happy faces of musicians glad to swap the sandy beaches and almost warm seas for the glamour and excitement of the rehearsal schedule, the new rota for tea duty and, more often than not, a few people with annoyingly wonderful tans and stories of glorious holidays abroad.

This time, however, I saw something that I’ve never seen before in 20 years of orchestral playing. Something almost as rare as unicorns or dragons… I saw a Double Bass player changing a string!

BSO Double Bass

That rarest of things… Jane changes a string on her double bass

As a viola player, I tend to change my strings two or three times a year. Occasionally they break (our last section principal, Stuart Green, had a fantastic habit of snapping his C strings through sheer brute force), but more often they just wear out leaving the sound dead or scratchy. Violinists change them more often, cellists less often, but bass players never, ever change their strings because they just don’t break. The lower ones are almost as thick as a finger and at well over £100 for a set, I can understand their reluctance to change for the sake of it. I’ve heard stories that ex-players pass on their strings with the instrument and the next player uses the same ones until they retire. It sounds very plausible to me and as the poor old basses get mocked as being wardrobes strung with rubber bands, I can empathise with their parsimonious ways, making a virtue of necessity.

Jamie Pullman (Viola)